After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, he imposed sanctions on Moscow, agreed with the Pope to pursue a nuclear-free world, and made diplomatic tours of Southeast Asia and Europe to rally world leaders to defend democracy.
But it’s not just Ukraine’s democracy he’s trying to protect. Kishida sees parallels between Russia’s actions in Europe and China’s expansion in the Indo-Pacific, a region from America’s Pacific coastline to the Indian Ocean.
Japan’s position is bordered by China to the south, nuclear-armed North Korea to the west, and Russia to the north, creating an increasingly unstable security environment. As a result, the war in Ukraine sparked an unprecedented debate over Japan’s national security.
But Tokyo isn’t just investing in defense, it’s also strengthening relations locally and beyond through diplomacy. Ahead of a meeting with US President Joe Biden in Kishida on Monday, experts say the world’s third-largest economy is reassessing its approach to deterrence and showing off as a reliable partner on the global stage.
Japan came up with the idea of an “arc of freedom and prosperity” more than a decade ago that would bring the United States and Australia across the Indo-Pacific.
Abe’s attempt to unify its Pacific allies came as China overtook Japan to become the world’s second-largest economy. Before long, Beijing was pursuing the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to develop a new trade route connecting China and the world.
China claims sovereignty over nearly all of the 1.3 million square-mile South China Sea, and has turned several coral reefs and sandbars off its coastline into man-made islands enhanced with missiles, runways and weapons systems.
In 2016, Abe upgraded his idea and called for a “free and open Indo-Pacific (FOIP)” because observers feared that China’s expansion could eventually threaten the free flow of trade by allowing China to control waterways in the South China Sea. introduced the concept. ”
Under FOIP, like-minded countries and organizations across Southeast Asia and Africa will protect the Indo-Pacific and the trillions of dollars of goods that pass through it each year.
Cleo Pascal, Indo-Pacific strategist at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy, said countries were initially slow to catch up with FOIP. “I didn’t even think FOIP was a problem because a lot of people assumed that the sea would open and people would be free,” she said. “But now we’re realizing that these two things, free and open, are really threatened.”
China’s expansion in the region is expected to be one of the main points of discussion at the fourth summit in Tokyo on Tuesday following the bilateral talks between Prime Minister Kishida and former Vice President Biden.
A stronger U.S. security pact
Japan’s efforts to unite its democratic allies came to fruition when the United States adopted the FOIP in 2017, giving the concept additional impact, along with new resources, programs and partnerships.
But now analysts say the US expects Japan to play a stronger leadership role in the region and knows that Japan needs to bolster its defenses.
“Japan recognizes that if it only relies on the United States, it will not really maintain political trust between the two countries,” said Ken Jimbo, a national security expert and professor at Keio University.
In December of last year, Prime Minister Kishida announced that the Japanese government was seeking ways to give Japan the ability to attack enemy bases. Since then, voices from within the ruling Japanese party calling for cooperation with the United States to develop ‘counterattack capabilities’ have grown louder. While this action will expand the limits of Japan’s peace constitution, it will also expand Japan’s ability to retaliate against mobile and submarine-launched attacks.
“Japan wants to be able to stand up for itself in the fight. There is a very large population in Japan who does not want to depend on outside forces to make decisions that may or may not take risks. Its sovereignty,” said Paskal. said
However, there is domestic resistance to moves away from Japan’s pacifist stance.
“Public opinion still sees Japan as a pacifist country that should not have the ability to attack other countries,” said James Brown, an international relations expert at Temple University.
“So those concerns have led the government to move more slowly about it.”
But the war in Ukraine seems to be changing its attitude. According to a recent poll conducted by the Asahi Shimbun and the University of Tokyo, 64% of 3,000 respondents said they were in favor of Japan’s strengthening of its defenses. This was the highest rate since the survey began in 2003.
China’s Influence Management
China’s support for Russia’s actions in Ukraine reinforced Kishida’s mission to protect the integrity of the Indo-Pacific. Not only is he reaching out to larger allies in the United States and Europe, but he’s also engaging in closer diplomacy to make it clear that Japan is a partner they can count on in times of uncertainty.
Thomas Wilkins, Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Strategic Institute, said: “Japan is helping China by introducing its own high-quality infrastructure projects that use local labor, provide high-quality controls and do not impose unsustainable debt burdens on participating countries. “I want to suggest an alternative to that,” he said. Policy Research Institute.
Tokyo’s efforts did not go unnoticed in Beijing.
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, in a video call with Japan’s foreign minister on Wednesday, said that the perception of Japan and the United States as one in China was “already pervasive” even before Biden arrived in Asia. said to have created According to a statement from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Japan’s decisive response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine symbolizes a nation’s desire to strengthen its democratic ties.
When Quad members meet in Tokyo on Tuesday, they will seek to present a unified front that aligns with Japan’s original vision of “an arc of freedom and prosperity.”
In this regard, Paskal said Japan’s leadership in the region is “respected and appreciated”.
“There’s a lot of work left to do, but many Japanese viewers are moving in ways they wouldn’t have expected five years ago,” she said.